WASHINGTON ― Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) is all but announcing her intention to run for House speaker against Nancy Pelosi, testing the waters Thursday by slamming Pelosi and putting race at the forefront of her campaign.
While she stopped short of officially throwing her hat in the ring during a sit-down interview with HuffPost, Fudge said she’s been “overwhelmed” by the number of people reaching out to support her potential speaker bid. She thinks the the opposition to Pelosi in the caucus is much greater than the 17 Democrats who have signed a letter saying they won’t support Pelosi to be speaker, and Fudge said if the vote were held today, Pelosi would be well short of the numbers.
“I don’t hate Nancy. I think Nancy has been a very good leader,” Fudge told HuffPost. “I just think it’s time for a new one.”
But you could be forgiven for thinking Fudge hates Pelosi. During the course of our interview, the former Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman made it clear she thinks Pelosi has not been a vocal enough advocate for African Americans in Congress, she dismissed suggestions that Pelosi had led Democrats back to the majority, and she painted herself as equally liberal as Pelosi.
“I don’t have a pitch because at this point I’ve not decided I’m going to run,” Fudge said, “but I would say this: My concern about the caucus is the same concern I have about the country. Just as there is this undertone of racism in the country, there’s also that in our caucus.”
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Nancy Pelosi through the years
Nancy Pelosi through the years
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: File photo dated 08 May, 1996 shows US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, speaking during a Capitol Hill press conference in Washington, DC. House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt (R, D-MO) is expected to announce 07 November, 2002 that he will not seek another term after the Republican opponents took both the House of Representatives and the Senate in mid-term elections 05 November. One of two Democrats vying to fill the spot is is Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi; the other is chairman of the Democratic caucus Martin Frost (D, TX). (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 20: US President Bill Clinton signs the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act Amendments of 1996 20 May at the White House in Washington DC. Standing behind Clinton are (L-R) Jeanne White, mother of Ryan, White House Aide Patsy Fleming, Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), Rep. Henry Waxman(D-CA), Rep. Nancy Pelosi(D-CA). (Photo credit should read CHUCK KENNEDY/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 25: HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS: Ranking member Nancy Pelosi ,D-Calif., during the House Appropriations,Foreign Operations subcommittee markup of FY 98 foreign operations appropriations. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
SLUG:NA/BAILOUT DATE:9/26/08 WASHINGTON, DC CREDIT: DOMINIC BRACCO II From left, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) speak during a press conference about legislation for a bailout of the financial crisis on Capitol Hill on Sept. 26, 2008. (Photo by Dominic Bracco Ii/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Washington, UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush is applauded by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (R) and Vice President Dick Cheney (L) as he delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington 23 January 2007. AFP PHOTO/Larry Downing/Pool (Photo credit should read LARRY DOWNING/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 10: WHIP RACE--Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., left, victor in the Democratic Whip race, talks to reporters and celebrates with supporting members after the Democratic caucus elected her to replace outgoing Whip David E. Bonior, D-Mich., who is running for governor of Michigan. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, : Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA,L) newly elected Democratic Minority Leader raises her hand with outgoing leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) 14 November, 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Pelosi's election marks the first time in the history of the US Congress that a woman will lead her party. AFP PHOTO MIKE THEILER (Photo credit should read MIKE THEILER/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 26: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to the California delegate breakfast in Boston, Massachusetts on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, July 26, 2004. (Photo by Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 02: STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS--House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and 2004 presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., talk before President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
Congressman John Lewis, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Harry Belafonte, Jessie Jackson and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (Photo by Moses Robinson/WireImage)
WASHINGTON - JUNE 04: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) addresses the 2008 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center June 4, 2008 in Washington, DC. Democratic U.S. presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) are scheduled to speak to the same event. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MAY 22: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol May 22, 2009 in Washington, DC. Pelosi turned the news conference into an opportunity to list what she and the Democratic House leadership considered their successes of the 111th Congress' first session. She took a handful of questions about her upcomming trip to China and her statements about the CIA. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 23: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, right, and Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, shakes hands while addressing the media before a meeting at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 23, 2009. Maliki pledged to mend sectarian divisions and fight corruption as he urged the international community to continue providing support to his nation. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC- Jan. 05: House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, accepts the gavel from outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as the 112th Congress convenes at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) works with staff before a vote on the House floor during a typically busy day on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Thursday, June 23, 2011. (Photo by Melina Mara/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES â DECEMBER 1: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds her weekly on camera news conference in the Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 22: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (L) and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi attends the Public Counsel's 2012 William O. Douglas Dinner at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 22, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 05: House Minority Leader Sen. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) waves as she takes the stage during day two of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 5, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC that will run through September 7, will nominate U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14: House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to the media as female House Democrats gather around during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, on November 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. Leader Pelosi said that she has decided continue to lead the House Democrats and does not wish to retire at this time. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, bottom center, stands for a photograph with Democratic women of the House on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015. 65 House Democratic women are part of the 114th Congress, the largest number of women in a party Caucus in the history of the Congress of the United States. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 07: (L-R) Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore, Apple's SVP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, CEO of Apple Tim Cook, music producer Jimmy Iovine and Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi attend the Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute to Industry Icons honoring Martin Bandier at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - JULY 15: Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leave a meeting with House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center where Biden briefed members on the nuclear deal with Iran, July 15, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 14: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., introduces presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton to the press for her on the Iran nuclear deal following her meeting with House Democrats during their weekly caucus meeting in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi works with staff in her House Leadership office during a typically hectic legislative day on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Wednesday May 18, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) walks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi after attending a meeting with the House Democratic Caucus on June 22, 2016 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 28: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 14: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), chats with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), during a memorial service to honor the late Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI), 49, who died from pancreatic cancer last July, at the US Capitol September 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 21: (L-R) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) drive nails into a piece of lumber at the 'First Nail Ceremony' September 21, 2016 outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The ceremony marked the official launch of construction on the Inaugural platform where the next President of the United States will take the oath of office on Friday, January 20, 2017. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 22: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) answers questions during her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol September 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Pelosi answered questions on a range of topics, including congressional negotiations on a new continuing resolution. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, right, shakes hands with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, following a meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. During their closed-door meeting, Pelosi expressed strong concerns about Trump's decision to name former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon to be his chief White House strategist, and asked him to reconsider the appointment. Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Pool via Bloomberg
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Fudge pointed to Pelosi’s refusal to endorse in the race for Majority Whip, a race between current No. 3 Democrat ― and CBC stalwart ― Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), and Dianna DeGette (D-Colo.).
“But she wants our endorsements?” Fudge said of Pelosi. “Who has she endorsed?”
“We’re not feeling the love,” Fudge added.
Fudge pushed back on suggestions that she may just be a stalking horse candidate for Clyburn or another CBC member to mount a speaker bid ― someone like Clyburn, current CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.), or Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). She said anyone who thinks that doesn’t know her very well, and she shot down a suggestion that her toying with a speaker run could also be about combatting a narrative that it is a bunch of misogynist white men who are trying to dethrone Pelosi ― or that the Pelosi opposition is coming exclusively from moderates.
Instead, Fudge said this was about a fresh start in Congress, making sure that Democratic leadership reflects the voters who gave Democrats the majority ― specifically, African American women. (Fudge pointed out that while women have gotten a lot of credit for ushering in the Democratic majority, white women are still broadly supporting Republicans. Specifically, she mentioned that Stacy Abrams lost white women by 76 percent in her bid to be governor of Georgia, and were it not for African American women in Alabama, Roy Moore would be Senator.)
“And so I’m saying, what is wrong with acknowledging the fact that the Democratic Party is becoming more young, more black, and more brown? And letting that be reflected in our leadership,” she said.
Fudge also suggested Pelosi was just unpopular with Democrats. She pointed to polling suggesting that Pelosi has a 17 percent favorability rating, and that more Democrats oppose Pelosi being speaker than those who support her.
Fudge offered that one of the reasons people don’t like Pelosi is because “they see her as an elitist.”
“And I think to some degree she is,” Fudge continued. “She’s a very wealthy person, she raises a lot of money from a lot of other wealthy people.”
“Everybody wants to give her such big credit for winning back the House, and she should be here because she won. She didn’t win it by herself,” Fudge said.
“If we’re going to give her credit for the wins, why is she not responsible for all the losses,” Fudge asked, specifically pointing to the 63 seats Democrats lost in 2010 and the large majorities Republicans held in 2012, 2014, and 2016.
Fudge has taken her own licks from Pelosi’s allies over the last 24 hours. When she first raised the possibility of running for speaker in an interview with Cleveland.com, it was quickly pointed out that Fudge is one of two House Democrats who has refused to cosponsor the Equality Act, which would extend civil rights protections to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Fudge said her issue has nothing to do with opposition to those issues, but is due to lawmakers opening up the Civil Rights Act to extend those protections. “If it were a standalone, I’d vote for it today,” she said, daring people to find one vote where she has stood against the LGBTQ community.
Fudge also said she has always supported marriage equality, and she dared anyone to find a vote where she stood against the gay community.
“The president of the United States is a racist, in my opinion. If we open up the Civil Rights Act, it’s like opening up Pandora’s Box,” Fudge said.
Pressed on why the Civil Rights Act wouldn’t be an appropriate place for those protections, she said she just disagreed with that thought. “I believe that, if we open the Civil Rights Act ― which basically could be done at any time ― but if we open it, I think we open ourselves to problems that we don’t intend.”
Fudge also said she would be more bottom-up in her procedural approach than Pelosi. “Just think about what happened,” Fudge said. “One day after we win back the House, leadership comes out and starts talking about what’s going to be our first bill, what we’re going to do first. Did they talk to anybody?”
“Team means doing ‘What I want you to do,’” she said.
She offered that the top priority of Democrats might be protections for people with pre-existing conditions, it might be student debt, or infrastructure, or job creation. “But nobody, none of the doors I knocked on, none of the people’s hands I shook, said, ’You should make campaign finance reform your No. 1 issue,” she said.
Fudge ― who is a former lawyer, judge, mayor, and chief of staff in Congress ― also thinks she could be just as capable of a leader as Pelosi. “There are a lot of people here who are more than capable, who had lives outside of this institution, who have proven their skills and their capabilities. I’m not the only one.”
Asked about working with President Donald Trump, who she repeatedly called racist during our interview, Fudge said she didn’t think she would have a problem working with him.
“Mind you, I’ve been the mayor of a city. I’ve sat across from a lot of people that I have to work with,” she said.